Authors: Ashlyn Chase,Dalton Diaz
Book reviewer Darcy Dennison wants to wring her neighbor’s neck. That’s a crying shame considering how gorgeous the artist is, but she needs peace and quiet to get her work done. Models throwing fits in his apartment don’t help.
On a temporary work visa, Paolo Santori has little time to paint his nudes before returning to Italy to marry a woman he doesn’t love. Then Darcy bursts into his life. The solution to her noise complaints is simple—she’ll model his favorite subject while she works.
Making her glisten thrills them both, but falling in love could mean losing everything he’s ever known.
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Strokes Copyright © 2010 Ashlyn Chase & Dalton Diaz
Edited by Helen Woodall
Cover art by Syneca
Electronic book publication August 2010
The terms Romantia® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
Ashlyn Chase & Dalton Diaz
This is dedicated to book lovers everywhere, especially Sherry Ingalls.
I would like to thank my writing partner Dalton, who always makes my stories hotter and cleaner. No, that’s not a contradiction. I’m talking about turning in a cleaner copy with more explicit details. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge our editor Helen for catching whatever little embarrassing mistakes Dalton occasionally misses.
Ash, some of my favorite words are, “Let’s write another one together!” I never know what’s coming my way, but I’m always laughing when I read it. Thanks for letting me on your ride, and thanks for sharing your lily pad in the Frogspond.
Note to Readers
Artists need to put food on the table just like everyone else. If you pirated this book—downloaded it for free from an illegal site—you just took a carton of milk out of my fridge. Think about it.
If you bought and paid for this book, bless you and thank you from the bottom of my heart. We write for you, and because of you we can afford to continue.
Darcy Dennison stuck her head out the window and yelled, “Hey, Michelangelo! If you don’t knock off the racket, I’ll come up there and shove your brushes down your throat!”
Honestly, how can one artist, an easel and some paint manage to make so much noise?
Another loud smash infuriated her. How was she supposed to finish the book she had to review if this madman didn’t stop with all the banging? Sleep deprivation from staying up half the night to meet her deadline didn’t help her mood.
Thud. Thud. Crash!
What the hell? Had he taken up sculpture? The sounds resembled a hammer breaking off chunks of misbehaving granite.
Darcy grabbed her three-hole punch and climbed onto a chair. She pounded the ceiling with brutal thuds. “There. See how you like it!”
The offensive noise stopped. “Ah…” she sighed.
Just as Darcy prepared to dismount, plaster assaulted the back of her head and sent her into a less than graceful swan dive onto the carpet.
It was as if gravity and her new Italian neighbor Paolo
drive her crazy.
Suddenly she didn’t care how sexy the Roman god was. Stomping upstairs as if each step bore a picture of his brooding expression, she tried to formulate what she would say. So much blind rage clouded her brain, she couldn’t think clearly. It would serve him right if she simply screamed in his face, although he might not understand the English curse words she wanted to hurl at him
She raised her fist to pound on the door just as it flew open. A petite blonde yelled obscenities and nearly mowed Darcy over in her haste to leave. The girl mumbled an apology and charged down the stairs.
Darcy peered into the studio apartment. A disheveled Paolo crouched on the floor with his head in his hands. Broken lamps, dishes, tipped-over furniture, paint tubes and brushes littered every inch of floor space. His easel and a blank canvas lay on the floor next to him. The only item untouched was the full-sized bed in the corner.
Darcy entered cautiously. “Paolo, are you all right? What the hell happened?”
He looked up at her with sad, brown eyes. “I think…my model…she quit.”
Darcy almost laughed at the understatement of all time. Covering her mouth, she squelched the sound then asked, “Did she say why?”
Paolo rose and raised his arms in a loose shrug. “I hired her to model nude. Perhaps she did not realize. When I asked her to take her clothes off and climb on the bed…” He gestured around the room.
Darcy couldn’t suppress her laughter any longer. It bubbled up from her toes and erupted.
Paolo frowned. “I have to exhibit next week.” He threw his hands in the air. “Now I have no model and the gallery will be very upset. Not to mention…” His shoulders slumped. “Never mind. It does not matter now.”
Darcy’s laughter dissipated. Clearing her throat, she thought about her own time crunch and the pressure he must be experiencing. To let down an employer counting on her work could spell the end of her career. Maybe it was the same with his.
“I’m sorry. I understand what it’s like to work on a deadline. In fact, that’s why I came up here. With all the noise, I couldn’t read the godawful book I’m supposed to review for tomorrow’s column. It’s supposed to be a bestseller but…” She copied his European shrug.
A hint of a smile crossed his lips as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. “It seems we are rowing the same boat.”
Charmed by his fractured metaphor, Darcy grinned. He eventually followed suit.
What a beautiful smile.
Straight, white teeth set off his olive complexion and dark razor stubble. A slant of wavy dark brown hair fell over his forehead, covering one thick brow.
Having realized that several seconds of silence had passed, she tried to break the spell. “Um… Well…”
“We have not talked and the life of an artist is lonely.” He righted one of the chairs and offered her a place to sit.
She didn’t really have time for this but he was so hot she couldn’t resist the opportunity to get better acquainted. And he was right. There was nothing as lonely as the solitary life of a writer or artist. Perhaps, as a stranger in this country, he hadn’t had time to make friends. She didn’t see a computer anywhere, so he probably felt more isolated than she did.
She wouldn’t change a thing but on her worst days she wondered what would happen if she dropped dead. Would anyone miss her until the rent was overdue?
With a sigh she entered the ruined apartment and lowered herself onto the chair he had offered. He sat on the edge of a futon and leaned forward. “I’d offer you something to drink but I no longer have anything to put it in. I’m sorry I have been too hurried to socialize. I’ll invite you for a proper Italian meal after I buy new dishware.”
“Yes. I cannot afford a restaurant every night and no one makes lasagna like mine.”
Darcy’s mouth watered. She could almost smell the melted cheeses and bubbling tomato sauce. “That sounds wonderful, but let me give you some dishes. I have more than I’ll ever use.”
“That would be very kind. I am sorry I disturbed you earlier.”
“I’m not,” she said, surprised that she actually meant it. “I never would have come upstairs if I weren’t ready to wring your neck.”
He looked puzzled. “Ring my neck?” He pointed to his ring finger, which was luckily bare. Relief washed over her. Perhaps she’d flirt with this gorgeous hunk and see where it led.
“Yeah, you almost bought the farm, baby.”
He cocked his head. “You have strange expressions but you are most beautiful to look at. You could be a model.”
She lowered her lashes, embarrassed but insanely pleased at the same time. Erotic images of the two of them tangled in those pristine sheets rolled through her brain.
“In fact,” he added with a new gleam in his eye, “if you would consider modeling for me, I will cook for you every night.”
She laughed again but considered the offer. “You know…if I could read while you paint, that just might work.”
His whole face lit up. “Then we can help each other!”
“Yes, I guess we can.” Oh yes. He could help her, all right. Help her end her frustration from an unusually long dry spell without a man pistoning between her legs.
* * * * *
The following night, Darcy joined Paolo for dinner. Fortunately his metal lasagna pan had survived the previous model’s temper tantrum. Darcy’s contribution to the meal was unbreakable dinnerware. He had opened a bottle of red wine to let it breathe before she arrived and welcomed her with a full glass as soon as she provided the wineglasses.
“Thanks for being so quiet last night. I finally finished and submitted my book review.”
A toast.” He raised his glass.
“To deadlines met.”
Their glasses met and clinked.
Darcy glanced around the neat apartment. “I see you’ve tidied up. You’d never know Prude-zilla had barreled through here only yesterday.”
Oh, that smile!
“I’m glad you arrived when you did. I wouldn’t want to think that all American women were that way.”
“American men seem to think we’re psychotic as a general rule, but don’t believe them. Some of us are quite stable.”
“Ha,” he said, “they are simply surprised by the passion beneath a woman’s smooth surface. But it is that passion that makes you alive. I don’t know if I said that right.”
Darcy slinked over to him and stroked his arm. His muscles flexed and were every bit as hard as they looked. “You said it perfectly.” Whether it was her sultry delivery or the words themselves, she earned another smile.
Then his expression turned thoughtful. “I think the girl, she was too young—and possibly psychotic.”
They both laughed.
He touched her hair. “But you are not too young to model nude, correct?”
“No, I’m not.”
Thank goodness I colored my hair yesterday.
To change the subject from her age, she said, “Something smells delicious.”
“It is my specialty. Genuine Sicilian lasagna. I hope you like it.”
She drank in the aromas of sausage, garlic and oregano.
“As long as you’re willing to cook such fantastic dishes, I’ll love it and I’ll gladly take my clothes off for you.”
Especially if you’ll return the favor.
Good God, even the man’s naked toes were long, lean and sexy.
He stepped back and appraised her body. His chocolate brown eyes raked over her and then he smiled. “You look perfect.”
“I assure you, I’m not. Nobody is.”
“All women are beautiful and the saddest thing is that so many of them cannot see it.” He slowly circled and complimented her. “Your hair—it is a rich color with shine—like cappuccino just as the milk is added. Your skin, so creamy and such a striking contrast…”
Darcy had accepted her image, but it never hurt to hear a guy she wanted to fuck tell her she was delicious and desirable. Coffee and cream, huh? If only he’d take a sip.
Dinner was an unhurried affair with each of them talking about their work, hometowns and their need to leave their own mark on the world. The only strange thing was how Paolo noticeably steered all conversation away from family.
By the time the sun had set, she was more than ready to hold up her end of the bargain and get naked. She’d worn her best black lace camisole and panties, so when Paolo pointed to a sheet he’d suspended to shield while she undressed, she simply smiled and stripped where she stood.
Only the slight quiver of his lip disturbed the charged atmosphere as she revealed what she wore beneath her clothes. He didn’t speak until her lingerie was removed as well, and she was pleased to note an added gruffness to his voice as he guided her into position.
Darcy reclined in the pose he wanted. Propped on one elbow, the next book to review below her breasts, she could read as he painted most of her. An hour later he had her remove her glasses and she assumed he must be painting her face. Hopefully he was nearly finished.
Even without the help of glasses she caught the heat in his gaze. He held his brush still for several seconds. His intense dark gaze swept over her body with unabated lust.
She fixed her eyes in a “come hither” gaze and finally allowed herself to check out the size of the bulge he sported in his jeans. Yes! It was even bigger than she dared hope and growing bigger at her perusal. She licked her lips, realizing just how long it had been since she’d had the opportunity to play with a cock, let alone one that big.
“Yes, hold it, just like that,” he rasped.
More animated, he painted faster. Darcy stared at the handsome artist, willing him to approach and caress her. A musky dampness developed between her thighs. Could she stand this teasing much longer?
“Paolo?” she asked seductively.
Eventually he looked up and responded. “Yes?”
“I have a cramp in the back of my left thigh from sitting in one position for so long. Do you think you could massage it for me?”
Paolo dropped his brush into a turpentine cup and hurried over as Darcy rolled onto her stomach. She displayed her pride and joy—a still-firm butt without any visible cellulite thanks to her regular workouts.
, why did you not tell me sooner?”
She twisted her torso to scowl at him. “My name isn’t
. It’s Darcy, remember?”
He laughed and sat on the bed beside her. “In my native tongue,
is an endearment, like darling or dear.”
“Oh.” She sucked in a deep breath and moaned. “Ohhhhhh…”
Paolo had sunk his firm fingers into her thigh and caressed her flesh. He jerked his hands from her body. “Is this too much pressure?”
“No, it’s perrrrfect. God that feels good.”
“Ah.” He smiled and resumed kneading her thigh and then his fingers spread wider and slid farther up and down as if he had to touch more of her.
She sighed to let him know it was all right to explore.
A faint groan escaped from him as he glided up over her buttocks, massaging and caressing her ass. Moisture surged from her pussy and she was sure he must be able to see, if not smell, her arousal. He leaned over and placed a light kiss on her back.
“You are so soft, so lovely. I could touch every inch of you.” In a deeper voice, he asked, “Would you like that?”
“Hell, yes. But first, take off your shirt.”
Darcy flipped over to enjoy the view as he unbuttoned his shirt. He gazed at her intently while he pulled it off his broad shoulders, revealing an abdomen taut and rippled. A light furring of hair made a V toward his low jeans, and her mouth watered.
As temptation and desire overtook her, she ran her fingers through the short, curled hair on his chest. His pectoral muscles stayed rigid under the pressure. Rock solid. She allowed her hands to stray over his powerful shoulders and arms, then she squeezed his biceps. She might as well try to squeeze a tree trunk.